Saturday, July 19, 2014

Wounded Lambs & Divided Sheep

"He shall feed His flock like a shepherd:
He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom,
and shall gently lead those that are with young."
Isaiah 40:11

#6 in the Legalism Series

As far as I know, at this point,
this will probably be my last legalism post...at least for a while,
unless God leads otherwise.
It's all about Him.
It's all up to Him.


This, like so many of my posts, is very long.
I apologize.
I know there are "rules" out there for keeping blog posts short and to the point.
Mine just never seem to come out that way.
I appreciate those who have the patience to read and absorb what God lays upon my heart!
I know the content here gets heavy and maybe not so easy to digest,
but please know that I only convey what I feel God is needing to say.
I am not here to waste your time with idle words, useless gossip, unnecessary chatter,
or just the latest happenings of my abundantly blessed life.
May God help me to never write something just for the sake of posting.
May He help me to always mind Him and deliver only His message here.
For truly, only what's done for Christ will last.

Thank you ever so much for your loyalty and sweet support.

As I contemplate the ugliness of legalism,
the lives it wrecks and the havoc it wreaks,
it occurs to me that there are two groups of victims who suffer the most from its cruelty.
The wounded lambs and the divided sheep.

Let's talk about the sheep first.

Jesus' desire in His prayer recorded in John 17...His yearning....
His plea to His Father was that we all might be one.
Undivided.
On the same page.
Without faction, sect, groupism, or denomination.
Uniform in thought, doctrine, and mindset....
and that one uniformity being HIM.

Legalism destroys the unity for which Jesus prayed.
It erects dividing walls... built by man...sadly, mostly by ministers themselves.
How could the very ones who are commissioned to preach the glad tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
be the exact enemies of His message?
How could they be the very instigators who persuade, influence, and coerce Jesus' followers
to separate from one another?
How can they stand in pulpits and speak evil of their brothers and sisters in Christ,
convincing their listeners that it is a sin to fellowship and worship with them,
based solely upon the fact that the others do not adhere to their personally-derived opinions?

I think it is beyond sad to hear grown men stand up, dig in their heels, and declare that
they refuse to worship with others over the pettiest of issues.
Things that have nothing whatsoever to do with our salvation.
Things that don't amount to a hill of beans with God.
Such bold statements they carelessly make...tearing down the unity Jesus longed to see.
Divided sheep obliterates the hope of Jesus' prayer to His Father ever being answered.

It isn't the Word of God that divides God's people.
It is people's unique interpretations of the Word of God that divides people.

Why can't we just let go of the insignificant things that divide 
and cause us to not be willing to worship with one another?
Why must the traditions of man keep us apart?


I wasn't sure I would ever share this, but it seems God is laying it heavily upon my heart,
so here goes.
Something very unusual happened to me a while back that made this so clear to me.
I don't believe I was asleep, so I don't think it was a dream.
Would I call it a vision?
I don't know...I suppose, in a way, maybe it was?
Whatever it was, it was REAL.
And it shook me to the core...opening my eyes wide in the process.
As far as I can remember, I was praying...just talking to the Lord...
heavy-hearted over this very thing....
thinking about the sad way legalistic opinions of man divide God's people,
when all at once, a picture came before my eyes.
It was a large building, and it was as if I were elevated above the building.
It was like I was sitting up high, next to God, and I could see what He sees.
I could see down in to the building..like it did not have a roof.
I was able to see inside very clearly.
In the building were many rooms.
The rooms were all divided by walls.
The Lord began to speak to me.
"This is My church.
It is not My will, intention, or plan that there be any walls inside, dividing the rooms.
I have children in every one of those rooms.
They are being kept apart by the leaders.
They built the walls.
But, you are free, child.
You are free to come in and go out of each of those rooms."
(John 10:9 comes to mind...)

When it was over, I felt peace...and, at the same time, a deep sadness.
Because, I am so deeply grateful to be extended this precious gift of freedom,
but I am so deeply anguished to think of why those walls exist,
and it breaks my heart to think of how many souls are being affected by the pride and stubbornness
of the "powers that be".

I find it incredibly heart-breaking that this person is not allowed to worship with this person
because of the opinions of ministers who hold control and manipulation over them.
We are not talking about sin issues here.
We're not talking about embracing and condoning any type of distortion of the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I am talking about non-Bible-based opinions that have become traditions passed down
from one generation to the next, and the current generation can't even explain why it is such a big deal.

Can we not see why this is such a majorly effective tool in the hand of our archenemy?

It is one of the oldest tricks in the book.
Divide and conquer.
As long as he can keep those within the ranks of Christianity divided over the petty issues,
he can reduce our influence to reach souls who are lost.
As long as we are bickering over what is not important,
he can keep up his breakneck pace of destroying what is most important,
landing every soul possible in Hell for eternity.
He must stand back and laugh profusely over our foolishness.

Why would unbelievers even remotely want what they see in us?
To the unbelieving world, we must look like the most argumentative,
back-biting, malicious, mean-spirited bunch,
as all along, we cling tight to our religious cloaks of self-righteousness,
turning our noses in the air, not only at the sinners, but at each other.

Dear Lord, have mercy...it literally breaks my heart.
If it breaks mine, what must it do to God's?
To the heart of our Savior?
Who bled and died and gave everything He had...that we might all be one?


What do we think?
That there are going to be compartmentalized sections and segments in Heaven?
Do we honestly believe that in the southeast corner there will be a designated section for this denomination,
and over yonder in the northwest we will find a reserved compartment for another slightly different brand,
and there in the middle is a spot for the ones who never could quite make up their minds which "group" to associate themselves with?
Sadder yet, do we honestly believe that
 we and our group are the only ones going to Heaven...at all?

Seriously?

I don't know which Bible some people read, but mine describes no such place or situation,
does yours?

Jesus died for all.
This is not an exclusive Gospel, available only to those who claim to know "all the truth".
Jesus is the way, THE TRUTH, and the life.
He promised that all who come to Him, He will in no wise cast out.
He didn't say we had to follow Bro. So-and-So's version and list of do's and don'ts...
at least not if Bro. So-and-So's list doesn't line up with the list in His Word.

If we dig in our heels here on earth and close our hearts to one another,
just because we cannot see eye-to-eye on every, single, petty issue,
do we honestly think we will all be in the same place for eternity?
If we can't get along here, will we even get to where we all want to be?

Legalism is the evil culprit that divides God's people.
These man-made opinions and man-contrived theories are the footers and beams that make up the composition of the walls I saw in my "vision".
This minister favors a slant to the left,
while the minister standing next to him prefers a bend to the right.
Both men are supposedly men of God,
dedicated, consecrated, sanctified, and set apart for His use and service.
Both men claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
Yet, the onlooking world can find no resemblance to Him at all.
Both men show ugly attitudes when they see each other,
they bite and devour one another when they are out of the realm of earshot,
they stand in their pulpits on Sunday morning and use them as platforms...
not to build Jesus up, but to run each other down.
And the saddest part is this...
the souls who came to church hungry for God
leave the building disappointed, disillusioned, and disenchanted with the whole Christianity concept.

Which brings me to the other group of victims....the wounded lambs.


Honestly, ministers, with all due and granted respect, do you really ever stop and think?
What you are doing?
The immeasurable damage you are causing?
By this spite-filled behavior?
Do you have an inkling how confused you are leaving our young people?
Do you wonder why they are leaving by the multitudes?
Does it ever occur to you that as you look out upon the faces of your congregations,
most of those faces are wrinkled with age?
Do you ever ponder the question of who will even be there to preach to...20 years from now?

Believe me when I tell you that I KNOW how easy it is to come under the bondage of preaching in ways that will please and promote other ministers and their opinions,
instead of preaching what God is really telling you to preach.
Sometimes, God forgive us, we don't see the error of this until way past the point.

We are losing our young people because we cannot get along.
We are losing them because we are holding them in such a stranglehold of man-made bondage,
that they cannot breathe.
We are losing them because we have lost the love of God....
a long time ago.

Since they can't find Jesus in us,
they are seeking out other ways to fill the void that God created for Himself.
They want no part of our hate-filled speeches, our holier-than-thou demeanor,
and our infliction of personal opinions and convictions upon them.

Can you blame them?
Sad to say, I know exactly how they feel.
Because I was there...where they now stand.
And I remember...all too well how sickened I was by it all.
Honestly, if I hadn't had a real relationship with Jesus,
and had Him and His presence to see me through,
I shudder to think where I would be right now.

One of the memories that seems to rise above the rest as being one of the most cruel,
happened when I was 15 years old.
It left a wound that time still has not been able to completely erase.
I remember it like it was last week.
The perpetrator was a woman who operated under one of the ugliest spirits of legalistic extremism
I have personally ever seen.
Oh, the memory still stings when I think of it!
Mom, Dad, and I had stopped going to church, for a time,
due to some sort of uproar that had taken place in our local congregation.
There was always, always chaos, of some sort, it seemed.
So much carnality...so little love.
So much man-rule...so little submission to Jesus.
So much hate-filled behavior, favoritism, and respect of persons....so little God.
You know, looking back, I can see that there were many times
God did His utmost to lead Mom and Dad out and away from the misery and bondage of legalism.
One of the ways He tried to show them and open their eyes
was through the many hurts and deep wounds they received through the years.
It hurts me to the core when I remember some of those wounds,
and, I'll be honest, it has been very hard for me to forgive the ones who imposed them.
Mom and Dad would see the wrong in it all,
they would tire of things being the way they were,
we would stop going to church (and find ourselves much happier serving Jesus, I must add),
only to be brought under severe condemnation by those who had mastered the "art" of guilt trip infliction,
and, once again, we would run back into our dreaded dungeon of despair,
picking up our chains along the way.

My poor, dear parents.
Only God knows.

Back to my story, though,
to this day, when I think of that particular woman, (now long-dead, God rest her soul),
or when I rarely hear the mention of her name,
I cringe.
My anxiety level intensifies.
It has been 32 years.
The deepest hurts leave the ugliest, slowest-healing wounds.

It was our first time coming back to church,
after one of those stints of not going for a while,
and I felt as nervous and uncomfortable and awkward as could be.
To be honest, I did not want to go back.
I was finished with the whole scene.
I was much happier in my walk with Jesus...
on the outside of organized religion.
But, against my will, there I was.
Walking down the aisle.
I can still feel it all...the oppressive atmosphere,
that sickening thud and churning in the bottom of my stomach,
the holier-than-thou stares that screamed, "Who do you think you are coming back here?
You should never have left in the first place",
the total unwelcome resistance towards my parents and me.
Oh, I wanted to turn and RUN out of that cold, evil-charged place,
and just fly to the arms of Jesus somewhere alone!
Away from those awful mean-spirited people!
But, Mom and Dad wanted me to be there, bless their hearts,
so bound and enslaved were they to pleasing that cruel taskmaster....
so I succumbed to their authority,
and I stood there...cringing...as, lo and behold, she left her aisle and started towards me.
Oh, boy...I guess she had heard the sound of my voice and knew I was there.
Panic rose within me...I knew this could not be good.
Are you ready for the most absurd part of this whole scenario?
This woman was blind.
So, in order to size me up and figure out if I measured up to her standards,
she had to literally walk to where I was and "feel" me and what I was wearing.
First she announced to anyone and everyone in the building about how tall I was getting...
drawing the very undesired attention of every, last one of them.
I remember wishing for a place to hide...anywhere...just to get out of there...
just to escape their self-righteous, Phariseeical, scrutinizing looks.
What she did next was so out of line...so ludicrous, you may or may not believe me,
but it is absolutely true.
She commenced to bend over so she could reach clear down to my shoes.
Right there, in front of them all, in the middle aisle of that church, mind you.
I suppose she must have been pleased with the dress I was wearing(?),
(I STILL remember what it looked like),
because she didn't utter a word.....until she reached my feet, that is.
What she found there sent her reeling.
'Oh, my Lord!!!!", she bellowed....loudly.
"She's got sandals on!!"

Now, I don't know how much you remember about being 15,
but it is an awkward age...
at least it was...for me.
And I did not want to be there that day in the first place.
I remember feeling SO tempted to totally rebel against Mom and Dad,
refuse to walk in that little, white building,
and permanently throw in the whole church-scene towel.
Already feeling out of place, unwanted, unwelcome, and inept,
the last thing I needed was for this blind woman to purposely leave her seat,
to walk down that aisle with the sole purpose of sizing me up to see
just how bad she could embarrass me.

I don't know how I stayed there that day.
But, I did.
And we kept going back for more....
for quite a while after that,
until we moved out of state and out of legalism...
for a span of time...
only to fall back into it again...deeper than ever...later on.
That is an entirely different story that I may or may not ever tell.

While this story sounds unbelievable, at the very least, it is to be believed.
Because it is true.
Just one of many lashes and blows dealt by the ruthless hand of legalism.
I could mention others, but need I say more?


Wounded lambs ...is there any way of numbering the multitude of them?
The ones who now lie broken...
addicted to substances they use as substitutes...
trying to locate what they never found in church.

Legalism is not pretty.
It is downright monstrous and grotesque...
and as opposite of Jesus Christ as day is from night.
And it is pushing our young people over the edge, away from a loving God,
out to seek for alternate solutions to their problems.

Before I end this post, I have one more thing to mention.
Please bear with me.
This is for any ministers who might be reading this who feel the need
to perpetuate the damaging spirit of legalism.
Humor me a few moments, will you?
Say, you are standing there, on any given Sunday morning, abusing the use of your podium,
badgering Bro. So-and-So, bruising his effectiveness by your slanderous words,
running him down...just because you and he just can't seem to agree on the insignificant,
and as you rant, you notice a plain-dressed, humble-looking man walk in, silently and without fanfare,
and seat himself on the back pew.
At first, he looks interested in what you have to say.
You have his undivided attention.
Not wanting to lose this chance to win him over to your way of thinking before he visits Bro. So-and-So's church, you fire off from both barrels...giving it all you've got...exalting yourself and abasing your brother.
Halfway in, you notice the stranger has hung his head.
He is still listening...you think...but his countenance is deeply troubled.
He looks...sad.
There is something about Him that keeps your eyes fixed.
You try to divert your gaze..move it around a bit...but you cannot.
You stand mesmerized, and suddenly, you see that there are tears...
trickling from his eyes, trailing down his cheeks.
You're not sure why, but for some unknown reason, this badgering session just became less joy-filled.
You end the sermon long before you intended to,
and you walk to your seat with a feeling you can't quite describe.
Something about his presence...there on the back row....leaves you feeling uneasy.
The quiet of the sanctuary is deafening as his presence seems to permeate every inch of space.
You could hear a pin drop as the stranger quietly leaves his seat on the back row
and makes his way to the front of your church.
Your first impulse is to stop him.
To ask him what gives him the right.
To set him straight and let him know who's in charge here.
But, no matter how strong the impulse, you find...again, that you cannot move.
There is a force that surrounds him.
It feels impenetrable.
He steps behind the pulpit you just left.
"That's my place, not his", you fleetingly think.
Every eye in the room is transfixed...focused....unable to look away...
from the penetrating eyes of this stranger.
They're still tear-filled.
Seeing them breaks your heart.
And as you stare, he reaches a hand to wipe one away.
As he does, you see the scar....and you know.
It is Him.
And you hang your head, because you are the cause of His tears.
And you begin to cry...thinking about all you said....and knowing He heard it all.
Suddenly, He turns your direction.
He looks at you.
You cringe.
Expecting the worst.
Waiting for rebuke.
You know you deserve it.
It never comes.
"I forgive you", He softly says.
What?
You jerk your head from its hung-in-shame position.
And you see it.
All over His face.
Deep in His eyes.
Love.
Forgiveness.
Mercy.
Peace.
Compassion.
And He speaks.
Just four more words...before He turns to walk down the aisle.
"Treat your brother likewise."
Suddenly you feel a long-lost feeling...one you felt so long ago...when you first came to trust in Him.
You run to Him...with all your might.
Wild horses couldn't keep you away.
Sorry.
Broken.
Realizing you have missed His whole message....until now.
Until this moment.
You get it now.
It is all about forgiveness and loving one another.
You bow at His feet.
You reach for them...and cling with all your might...not wanting to ever let Him go...
as through flowing tears, you see the deep ugliness...of His scars.
You dare to raise your shame-filled head, and as your eyes meet His once again...
you find Him smiling.
For He knows you've preached your last message,
and that from now on, you will preach only His.

The most striking thing about this hypothetical scene is that
even though you don't see Him, He is always there.
Maybe not seated in human form on the back pew of your church each Sunday morning,
but there, nonetheless.
Listening to everything you say and every sermon you preach.
Seeing every motive in your heart.
Watching every move you make.

"All things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do."  (Hebrews 4:13)

There needs to be a change, my dear friend.
The legalism needs to stop.
It is wounding the lambs and dividing the sheep.
Jesus prayed that we all might be one.
Can't you hear His heart?
In that anguished prayer?
How can we be one, when we are so hung up on making everyone adhere
to non-Biblical demands
set in place by men and every man's demands are different?
Can't we see how destructive this is?

Jesus is coming soon.
And while we play our senseless games and dig in our stubborn heels,
souls will be caught off guard and lost for eternity.
All because we are too proud to lay down our opinions and traditions...
for the sake of a greater cause....the greatest cause.
It is time to humble our hearts before God....and to one another.
It is time to preach JESUS...only Jesus....only His infallible doctrine,
not the opinions of the fallible.

Please...my friend....just think about it?

(To read Post #1 in this series, entitled "The Binding Stronghold of Legalism", click here.
To read Post #2 in this series, entitled "The Greatest Post-Legalism Danger", click here.
To read Post #3 in this series,
entitled "The Second Greatest Post-Legalism Danger & How To Avoid It, click here.
To read Post #4 in this series, entitled "Jesus And The Outcast", click here.
To read Post #5 in this series, entitled "My Quest To Know Jesus", click here.)

12 comments:

  1. I've enjoyed this series. (obviously...I think I commented on every post, ha, ha.) I'm thankful for your truth. While I use my blog for "fun", I do, every so often, have to make a truthful post, as well, because it would be a sin to not do what God is calling us to do.

    Anyways, I do deal with a wounded lamb, every day. How hard it is, knowing that all of their pain comes from these "Christians" who lost sight of what they were really supposed to do. I even attended that church for a short while, but left when one woman said I was wrong for allowing my baby to eat Cheerios in church, and another talked so badly about someone who got divorced AFTER she got divorced. ??? (I don't quite get that, either.)

    My children and I are currently still churchless. After I left that church, I went to another one for a few years that wasn't what people would call "legalistic", but it was very damaging to me. I didn't see it then. But everyone there had a lot of money and we...don't have any. ha, ha. We have a tarp on our roof and rusty vehicles. When I started attending that church, those types of things didn't bother me. However, after 3 years, I started feeling like we didn't have enough; that life was unfair; that I didn't fit in...Looking back, I feel very ashamed. I allowed those people to make me feel so inferior, when in reality, I am right where God has placed me! I am working on being the person God called me to be, but I still feel hurt by some of those people.

    So if being churchless means I serve God better, then I guess I should just be churchless for now.

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    1. Bless your dear heart! My heart just breaks to think of your little wounded lamb. I, too, am doing my utmost to help our, little wounded lamb heal. They will bear the scars from these hurts for the rest of their lives, and that pains me to the core. But, I keep reminding myself that "Christian character is forged in the crucible of pain." God allowed them...and us....to go through what we have to build and forge our Christian character and fortitude. I am SO sorry for the awful things you have had to endure and the terrible hurts that have been inflicted. You know, maybe there is a reason you and I cannot fit in to these molds...I believe God doesn't want us to. HE wants to be our all in all, without a middle man to have to please and bow down to. Thankfully, we do not have to go to church to serve God, and I am finding, that my communion and relationship with Him is SO much sweeter and more real when I don't have all of those distractions to interfere...yes, dear friend, do what allows and FREES you to serve God better....even if it means being churchless...YOU are His church. His Spirit abides within you, I can feel it. And THAT is what serving Jesus is all about. It is best for us to let go of the toxins that are bringing us down and cling tightly to HIM, our Rock and our Salvation. I am SO thankful you have read and enjoyed these posts...I cannot begin to tell you how much you encourage me when you write and share your heart. I am SO thankful God allowed our paths to cross, as you are a dear blessing to me. Much love to you and your sweet family. Keep pressing on for God, and don't worry about those who don't understand or approve. Pleasing Him and gaining His sweet approval is all that matters.

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  2. It is sad to think that a person would be more concerned about the kind of shoes you wore rather than if you had need they could pray with you about...so sad. I enjoyed this post.
    Much love,
    Chris

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    1. Yes, it IS incredibly sad...young people need encouragement, and sometimes, it is the last thing they find in church. It must break the precious heart of our dear Lord all over again, as He looks down upon the disarray and confusion. So thankful we can keep our eyes and focus on Him, and He will see us through. Thank you so much for stopping by, sweet friend. God bless you.

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  3. Your pain -- not just your own -- but your deep ache for others who have not yet had the chance to really drink from the well of grace is so clear and holy in this post, Cheryl. The imagery of Jesus in our churches, so poignant. I, too, hurt for the people who will give up on Christ because of their encounters with "Christians" ... may we, with Him, be in the business of bringing the wounded ones before the Great Shepherd, through whom all healing is possible.

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    1. Oh, Beth. Thank you EVER so much for your dear, kind words. My heart truly does ache for those who are hurting and do not yet understand the meaning and reality of God's amazing grace. YES, may we be instruments of His healing to every wounded lamb He brings across our path....and God, help me to do it in love, never bitterness. So very grateful to you for your encouragement. :)

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  4. Cheryl, I have enjoyed listening to the music in your sidebar, most being new to me.
    I also plan to take time to read each of these installments.
    I was in a legalistic church for a few years, it's hard to get that mindset out of your mind.
    When we first went to that church women weren't aloud to wear pants/slacks.

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    1. Thank you so much, Michelle! I am so thankful for you kind comments and your loving, Christlike spirit. And so happy you are enjoying the music!! Much love and many blessings to you!

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  5. Wow. Your story is compelling, heartbreaking, and infuriating. Pride is the opposite of God. Period! If a church doesn't have humility then they have rules, that makes them no different than the humanist that says there is no God, that they are gods, and that's the spirit of pride that those churches have, satan's pawns… I know a church not far from us that is exactly like that.

    The story of the Man in the back drives home your point. "They will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another." If a church is missing love, their missing God…

    Well done, sister.

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    1. Thank you so much, Floyd. You are so right...that Scripture is so appropriate here and so timely. May God help us to always go and do as Jesus did. I SO appreciate your visit and your kindness. God bless you.

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  6. Your wisdom amazes me Cheryl! Thanks for sharing the gospel with all of us so well: Legalism destroys the unity for which Jesus prayed. - such a truth!!! So thankful that He has called us to live in complete freedom!

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    1. YES, dear friend! So thankful that whom the Son hath made free is free indeed! I SO appreciated your dear, sweet words...they just meant more to me than I could ever say. :) I'm so thankful you stopped by....it's always a blessing and encouragement to me.

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